Monday, December 26, 2011

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday...Oh, it was...

Good King Hal wondering where the Hell he left the sleigh. Can you see a chimney anywhere?

This year, being Father Christmas was a much nicer happier experience than last year. One of the main reasons was the almost complete and utter lack of any snow. I personally loathe the stuff and I am still, to this very day, perplexed by the sort of people who pay vast sums of money to travel the globe trying to find it. And when they do find it, they then attach planks of wood to their feet and slide down the bloody stuff. And I am always tremendously sympathetic when they arrive back at Gatwick or Heathrow with compound fractures to both lower legs. I always try to take their minds of the intense pain by pointing out how nice their out of season sun tans look. It doesn't always work to be honest.
The grotto was again located in the Dog Collar Museum at Leeds Castle in the courtyard next to the Fairfax Hall restaurant. It was a nice walk through a faux winter wonderland dotted with deer and penguins. The path was a raised walkway that thankfully only one small child managed to plummet off during our run. The evening shows were again like last year up in the castle only this time no child presented with a name as good as "Lost in Chaos" from 2010, though we did have one little girl bowl up called "Twinkle", which is all well and good when you're 7 years old, blonde and cute. It might be a tad less suitable when you're 36, vastly over weight and with six screaming children running amok in your council flat. I stayed at my sister's house in Stockbury for the entire run this time, failing miserably to get snowed into the castle this time around. I also failed miserably to get a girlfriend to come and stay with me for a romantic weekend at the castle early in the run by getting dumped before reaching the required date. C'est la vie.
Staying at my sisters is always lovely as I am guaranteed a warm welcome from her and my brother-in-law Julian, and their two lovely dogs Charlie and Una. The food is good, the bed warm and comfy and, Eastenders aside, the entertainment mostly very agreeable. The only down side is the effort it takes to get into their house. It is perched at the top of a short steep hill just off the A249 and when it rains the ground and driveway churn up like very impressive impressions of Passchendale during the 1914-18 conflict. Added to this at the bottom of the hill Julian has recently installed a new security gate following recent thefts from his garden by some charming chaps who may or may not have a connection with Dale Farm near Basildon, if you follow my drift. The gate is sealed by a pretty much tamper proof padlock, the unlocking and re-locking of was one of my main duties during all my comings and goings from their house. They had supplied me with a key. On one of my first journeys back to their house in the pitch dark after an evening show, I drove up to the gates, got out the car, slithered and slipped my way to the gate, spent a few happy minutes swearing, sweating and cursing as I attempted to get the very small key into the lock and then coax it into opening. I finally succeeded - so back into the car, drive it through the gates, stop the other side and get out and re-lock the gates. The other side of the gate was even darker and wetter. I got out and immediately put my foot into a huge muddy puddle that sunk up to my lower ankle - good job my boots were high and waterproof. I took another step and instantly sank up to my mid-calf in thick black treacle-like mud that poured into the top of my boot and soaked my feet. My, how we laughed. But it was a small price to pay for such kindness and welcome from my sister and her husband. By the end of the stay my car looked like it had just been dragged out of a swamp - and so did I.
I finished on Christmas Eve at just after midday and drove up to Essex to spend Christmas Day with my lovely son James and his Mother. Tomorrow, the 27th, he and I head off down to Wales to visit my parents for a family New Year gathering at their house which should be very nice indeed. So for all their help and hard work at Leeds Castle this Christmas I would love to say a big thank you to: Darlene, Becky Lander, the incredible Dodd sisters (Becca, Jen and Pip), Sophie, Adam, Dallas for building the grotto, Pat and Alan, Barbara, Marina, Lyn Jones, Trisha, and Helen Ellis for proving that subtlety is just something that happens for other people. If I have forgotten anyone, I apologise.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ho-Ho-Ho and Ellesmere Port...

Now available from BID TV! Your very own inflatable life-size Henry VIII complete with six wives, a chopping block and a Papal Dispensation. Only £9.99 plus postage and packing (immense) - order now to avoid disappointment!

So this is Christmas. And what have you done? Stuck on a big white beard and headed for Leeds Castle again in my case. Yes, it's that time of year again when parents bring small children into Santa's Grotto and scare the crap out of them. Back at Leeds we were once again in the Dog Collar Museum which has been transformed into a winter wonderland by the genius that is Dallas, the man who always masterminds the building of the Grotto. Again it looks amazing, with the parents and children walking through on a raised walkway surrounded by deer and penguins in various states of deep freeze. I am at the end of the walkway in my large Santa throne with a very impressive Christmas Tree and a big sack of presents. We started on Saturday 10th December and it was busy buy not too hectic. On hand again were two of the wonderful Dodd sisters - Jen and Pippa, plus able support from Lynn Jones, Marina, Trisha and of course, Darlene and her assistant Becky. On the first day we had one very cute little lad in who was a bit gobsmacked when he first came into the grotto but soon got into his stride. When I asked him what he wanted for Christmas he thought long and hard, then said "Thomas". I asked "Thomas, what?" and he replied, after a long silent think - "Thomas pants." Well, you can't argue with that. Over the first two days we had a good few absolutely terrified children, but also lots of very happy jolly ones as well. I stayed at my sister Cathy's on the Saturday night where she cooked a fabulous meal, and then after the Sunday show I drove up to Essex for dinner with my lovely son James and his Mum, Amanda who had cooked a lovely roast beef meal which was delightful.

On Monday I headed up to Cheshire for a Henry show on the Tuesday in Ellesmere Port. I was booked in again at a delightful Travelodge near Chester and spent a not very nice evening listening to Manchester City being unfairly beaten by Chelsea. The main unfair part was that Chelsea scored one goal more than we did. Swines! This morning I headed up to Wolverham Primary in Ellesmere Port, which was a lovely school and met up with Joseph Bullen the teacher who had booked me. He had heard about me from a friend of his who had seen my previous appearance at a school in Cheshire when I was up near Nantwich a little while ago. It was a small group - only about 20 children, all from year 3, but they were enthusiastic, loud and, importantly very knowledgeable about Henry and the Tudors. We had a fun morning before a very nice lunch, then the afternoon started in one of the classrooms as the hall was temporarily in use. So I did the stocks session in there before we headed back to the main hall for a very loud and enthusiastic jousting tournament. It was closely fought but culminated with a good win for a Gentleman's team. As this is the last show before my Christmas break our current score for the end of the year stands at:


It is as close as that! I headed out for the long drive back to Somerset at about 3.15pm and made steady if unspectacular progress down towards the M6 - but got held up after a car smash on the A500. I finally made it onto the motorway and began south. Eventually I made it back to Crewkerne at about 7.30pm, tired, hungry but glad that I had not hit too much of the appalling weather we had been promised. Yes, the wind was very strong but there was not the Biblical rain storms that had been hinted at and no snow, and as far as I am concerned that is GOOD! I have tomorrow off, then on Thursday I am off back down to Kent again for the big push through to Christmas Eve in the Grotto.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Edgar Stammers and Southglade (NOT a rock group)

Good King Hal and his daughter (Bob) wondering where all the glass has gone from the window behind them. What a pane (geddit???).

I told a friend of mine on the phone the other night that I was off to Walsall to do a show. He asked if after that I was moving on to Gdansk. I had to repeat myself and tell him I was going to WalSALL, not Warsaw. Mind you last time I was in Walsall I had got up so early due to an inability to sleep I probably could have driven to Warsaw to do a show. Not to be caught out again I had decided to drive up on the Sunday and book myself into the luxury that is a Travelodge so as to be fresh and early at the school on the Monday. I booked online and found out to my delight that a room at a Travelodge in Walsall at the beginning of December was only £12. What a bargain! The drive up to begin with was quite nice - cold and bright, with not much traffic on the road. However as I approached the Midlands the sky became black as Newgate's Knocker and the rain just hammered down. I finally sloshed to a halt outside the august portals of the Walsall Travelodge. Now, yes admittedly it was only £12 to stay the night, but they then immediately charged you £3 for the pleasure of parking there. There was a small cafe/restaurant downstairs that offered you breakfast. But this appeared to consist of a rather forlorn looking slice of bacon, a chipolata, some watery scrambled eggs and some toast for £7.95. I'd rather starve, so I did.

I had a comfortable night in my room on the 2nd floor only being disturbed by the drunken shrieking of some demented woman at about 11pm - she wasn't happy about something and obviously wanted everyone else in the hotel to know about it. I got up the next morning and drove round to the wonderfully named Edgar Stammers School. Now to me, the name Edgar Stammers sounds like a 1960's soul singer on the Stax record label rather than a nice primary school in the West Midlands. It was a really fun group on the day - about 40+ children and all very enthusiastic. All was going really well until we got to the end of the morning session. At this point, halfway through my talk, there was a barely audible knock on the door to the hall before it was smashed open and several scary looking women of advanced years and varying degrees of gold dentistry, stormed into the hall and began noisily chucking tables and chairs around while cackling to each other. Tables were crashed down, chairs dragged honkingly loudly over the floor and voices like Thames barge foghorns were projected. I made a comment fairly loudly about them being a tad rude in stomping in like that and was shot a look from one of the teachers that said "LEAVE IT! THEY AIN'T WORTH IT!" As they began to finally (and equally loudly) to leave I called after them "Why did you bother knocking?"

After lunch, and more loud haranguing from the antediluvian dinner ladies ("'Ere! 'Enry! Where's yer Mrs? Eh? Eh?") it was back to normality, or as normal as I can get without using make up. The jousting was of a very high standard and ended up with a good Gents team coming home first. Our score therefore now moves up to:


And of course with the next contest coming up very quickly. Edgar Stammers was a lovely school, great children, lovely teachers, and very scary dinner ladies. It was like Jurassic Park with tabards.

I drove from Walsall over to South Witham near Grantham where my dear friend Val Smart lives. We wandered down to the local village pub that evening and had a lovely meal at The Blue Cow Inn. I stayed there once before as you might recall from a previous entry in the blog. It was a cold frosty evening but we sat next to a blazing log fire and had a lovely meal. The only drag was when the pub manager, who looked like a gnome who'd lost his mushroom, noticed my Manchester City t-shirt I was wearing and came over for some good natured banter as he was a Man Ure fan. He then regaled us with tales of his past life, where he'd lived, what illnesses he'd had, which RAF stations his son has been posted to and for how long, why Mousehole in Cornwall is called Mousehole, how many light bulbs they use in illuminating the village in winter... At one point I didn't think he was going to stop and I was seriously considering trying to shove him into the fireplace in a desperate attempt to escape. But we did get away. I slept in Val's spare room on a tiny, but very comfortable bed.

Tuesday morning and I was again up at bloody-hell-o'clock in the morning for a drive up to Nottingham and my visit to Southglade Junior School. This is another lovely school and I was very warmly welcomed by the teachers and staff. The children were unbelievably enthusiastic this day. It was all that I could do to reign them in and keep them on this side of hysteria. They were the same sort of size group as the day before, but about 20 times louder. Perhaps their dinner ladies were 20 times louder as well. I hoped not. The morning did honestly seem to just shoot past and I ended up for the last few minutes being interviewed in the classroom by one of the two classes, as I sank slowly into an unbelievably squashy low chair. Thank God I had my walking stick with me as I might have needed a midwife to get me out of it. Lunch was pretty awful to be honest - an all day breakfast consisting of bacon (OK), wedges (dry), mushrooms (nice), beans (stewed) and two of the most tasteless sausages I have ever experienced in my life. I know schools have to cut down on the old sodium for the sake of the kids health, but this was just taking the proverbial. They were just flavourless greyish tubes full of mush.

The afternoon was predictably loud and popular and the jousting was a joyous occasion as two really good teams fought it out in the final. The ladies came through for a deserved win though, and so our score goes back to:


I left the school at 3.30pm and made steady if unspectacular progress, until I reached junction 5 of the M42 where a car had caught fire and two lanes were blocked. I got held up there for just over half an hour. But I was soon on my way again - until the Avonmouth Bridge on the M5 where about 6 or 7 cars had decided to smash into each other and closed another couple of lanes. I was held there for about another 45 minutes. I finally walked into my flat at about 8.30pm - that had been a long long day. But worth it! And I know I am far enough away from the Dinnerladysaurus to be completely safe - for now. Tomorrow I am driving to Essex to see my lovely son and then down to Leeds Castle this weekend for the first Father Christmas weekend of the festive season. Looking forward to grooving on down with my Elves to the "Santa Rap" - HOOO-HO-HO-HOOOOO!

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Maynard

Canadian 400 metre underwater shove ha'penny Olympic quadruple gold medallist, Bruce Moosejaw IV comes thundering into the home straight with only himself to beat. And does it convincingly. Meanwhile society hostess Camilla Parker-Pen demolishes another bottle of Bombay Sapphire, while the sun sinks slowly into a pair of y-fronts. And now here's Carol Kirkwood with the weather... Carol?

I have many reasons for enjoying a trip down to Exeter in Devon and my yearly return visit to The Maynard School For Girls. One is their insistence that I don't have to start my Tudor Day until 10am. This obviously involves me staying in bed longer than normal on the morning of a Henry show, but I am prepared to suffer for my art. Secondly is my ever warm welcome from the delightful staff at this lovely school, particularly from the gorgeous Keagh Fry who now greets me on my arrival like a long lost friend. And thirdly it is always just such a fun place to come and work in. It was the usual smallish group today - about 20 young ladies I suppose, but each and every one of them in wonderful Tudor costumes. I started the show at about 10.35am, and by 12 noon we had finished for lunch -my kind of hours! It was another lovely meal at this school followed by a leisurely lounge in the comfortable staff room with it's legendary squashy sofa - the one that nearly rendered me unconscious about three years ago on a previous visit.

Straight after lunch it was a bit of music and chat from the King followed by a raucous stocks session which finished with the Head of the School being pilloried, swiftly followed by the Head of the Junior School taking another ear bashing. Great stuff. We then moved into the final jousting tournament which was loud and exciting but unfortunately can't be added to our yearly score as this is an all-girls school! But all in all it was another fun, friendly and pleasant visit to this lovely school in Exeter and a delight to see Keagh again. One of the young ladies in the group was called Emily and had the sort of voice that could pierce lead screens and reinforced concrete bunkers at a range of anything up to several and a half miles. She will go far, of that I have no doubt. I drove back home and treated myself to a Chinese take-away and an early night, though not at the same time as it might make the bed sheets a bit greasy. My next Henry outing is on Monday at Edgar Stammers School in Walsall. Thought it might be Warsaw. I'd better check...

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Dean Close Prep - Cheltenham

Good King Hal showing Jane Seymour an old trick he learnt on the "Mary Rose".

Scene: A sun-kissed tropical beach, cobalt blue waters are lapping on shimmering near white sands. Good King Hal is sitting on a lounger chair in his full Tudor robes, with a knotted handkerchief on his head while sipping a large pina colada and contemplating whether to have the langoustines or the curry pot noodle for lunch. Lisa Rogers, late of Scrapheap Challenge emerges from the water in a tiny white two piece bikini. Rivulets of water cascade down her firm semi naked body as she sashays up the beach with a sensual sway to her step. She stops next to Good King Hal's lounger chair and reaches out her hand. The King takes her hand and kisses it. She leans forward and whispers in his ear those words he had longed to hear....

BEEP-BIDDA-BIDDA-BEEP! Garg-thnarg-wassat? Damn! It was all a fecking dream! And what's worse, it is 5am and pitch dark outside AND it's the first day of December. It must be time to drive up to Cheltenham and visit Dean Close Prep. The previous evening Crewkerne had experienced weather of near Biblical proportions. Rain had lashed at my flat's windows most of the evening and a strong wind had been howling round the eaves. I really wasn't looking forward to the long drive if the weather was going to be like that. As it was the morning was cold, but dry. Added to which the roads were staggeringly empty and I made brilliant progress up the M5 towards Gloucestershire. I arrived at the impressive gates of Dean Close at about 7.30am, so I simply parked up on their drive and waited till things seemed to wake up a bit. It was a group of around 30+ children from Year 5. Some were a little over excitable, but mostly they were a friendly good natured group with lots of laughs among them. After the morning opening talk we then had an extended early morning joust in the large impressive sports hall. We took timings of all the children over two runs and totted up their scores, the fastest three gents and the fastest three ladies would go head to head in the final this afternoon...

Lunch was the usual delicious fayre that you get at most private schools - a warming tasty shepherds pie. I sat at a table with a year 6/7 teacher who bore an uncanny resemblance to Jeffrey Archer, but I resisted any temptation to punch him as he was unlike Archer in that he was eminently likeable and self-effacing. After the feast it was back to the Tudor nonsense with a fun stocks session and then the final of the jousting in which the two top teams fought it out in a lively and loud finale. The ladies swept to another comfortable victory. Latest score then is now:


I packed my stuff away and began the long journey home. My morning drive had mostly been in darkness, my evening drive was pretty much the same, this time with the added fun of occasional squally showers. Tomorrow shouldn't see me in the car for quite so long as I am back down to The Maynard School in Exeter for a full day. Now all I have to do is find that exotic sun-kissed beach again and see if Lisa Rogers is still there. And langoustines it is!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


The Three Degrees about to launch into an eye-watering version of "Whence Will I See Ye Againe, Hey Nonny?"

Do you like the picture above? Taken at the Mistletoe Fayre at Barrington Court last Saturday where you can see me with Diane Collings and Zarrina Bull either side of me in their smashing frocks! Tuesday evening found me back on Pub Quiz territory as my friends from Barrington Court (Rachel Brewer, Anthony, Sarah and another couple we met at the NT quiz last Friday) took on all comers at the monthly quiz at the Phelips Arms in Montacute. We thrashed the lot of them and will be back sometime in the future for another bash at this popular and tricky quiz.

It was back to the schools again today, and on a day of closed schools and much frothing at the mouth by some people about the public sector strikes, I was booked at a school that seemed completely untouched by the industrial action. It was to be a half day at Bathampton Primary School in, surprise surprise, Bathampton on the eastern outskirts of Bath. This is a lovely spot and I arrived in bright early morning sunshine in this small quaint town, with the school tucked away in a quiet lane next to the Kennett and Avon canal, complete with long rows of brightly coloured narrow boats, some of which had early morning smoke rising from their chimneys. Dotted around were gently rolling hills and it all seemed terribly pleasant. The school itself was absolutely lovely. A slowly expanding old Victorian building with various bits being added to it, including a brand new area for the reception classes that I was to open today. I was very warmly welcomed by the head teacher, a very friendly charming man who kept referring to me as a celebrity - I think he needs to get out more! I was with a nice class today, mostly year 3's with a few year 2's thrown in to keep me on my toes. The opening talk was fun, loud and enthusiastically received. Loads of laughs and some fun ad libs as people made surprised unscheduled appearances in the hall. After the mid morning tea break I was then called upon in my "celebrity" status - I had been asked to cut the ribbon on the opening of the new reception class rooms. I was very honoured to be asked to do this and was introduced to the crowd before making my entrance. There was a big group of dignitaries including most of the Governors I would imagine and the local vicar, as well as all of the children from the other classes. I made a quick speech and then cut the ribbon as various cameras flashed away. The children then sang me a song, which was very nice, before I was presented with a thank you card from the reception class and a bottle of wine! I could get used to this celebrity malarkey! After this interlude I was back in the hall with my group for the Tudor quiz before we launched into a very loud and enthusiastic jousting tournament. It was close all the way, but ended with the Gents storming to a well deserved victory. This makes the score:


Good stuff. The children then sang me another couple of Tudor songs and one little lad showed his early talent by playing Greensleeves on the piano, and then that was that! I packed away and headed for home while the children got stuck into a Tudor banquet. What a fantastic lovely friendly school! The drive home was pleasant and relatively quick. Tomorrow I am going to be up and early for another return visit to Dean Close Prep School in Cheltenham. Should be fun. But to Bathampton, thank you for a really memorable and pleasant day.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mistletoe Fayre 2011 pt 2

The sort of image to make single women quake in their shoes. Good King Hal clutching mistletoe and beginning to pucker up at Barrington Court. Ooh, nasty...

Day two of the Mistletoe Fayre 2011 dawned with piercing bright morning sunlight. Lovely! Today I was to be a lone King - no Diane or Zarrina to keep me company, it just wasn't the same without them, but fun none the less. With no pensioner afflicted trips to a local petrol station this morning I arrived at Barrington Court more or less on time today. Once changed into my "frock" I started my rounds of the Court House. It was much less busy today - Matthew Applegate reckoned on there being nearly 900 people through the door for the first day. I would estimate today's number being more in the range of 500, but all the stalls seemed to be doing great business.

I had some fun chatting with Rachel Brewer, Barrington's own "pommelier" and she was joined on her stall by the fair Sarah. The mulled cider tasted as good as yesterday, if not better and really did chase the cold out of your system. We had more musician's today, who added some real atmosphere to the event, and towards the end of the day I was presented with an old fur coat by the lovely lady on the wool stall. She said I could use it to add to any new costumes, which was very kind and generous of her. She then scored even better marks by giving me a nice kiss under the mistletoe. Now that's what I call service.

Back home to watch Manchester City draw with Liverpool and re-affirm my belief that Mario Ballotelli is a prime example of inverse ratio between size of wallet and size of brain, and then to settle down with a nice bottle of Shiraz and watch a repeat of "Ripping Yarns" on TV. Smashing! My next Henry outing is on Wednesday this week with a first ever visit to Bathampton School in Bath.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Mistletoe Fayre 2011 pt 1

Good King Hal being an exemplary model of grown up behaviour for a couple of impressionable young fans. Don't worry though, their parents sorted him out in the car park later.

The Mistletoe Fayre was back at Barrington Court again! It must mean Christmas is a coming. To be honest if you believed what you see in the High Street and on TV, Christmas has been a coming since about June. I am amazed there aren't any Easter Eggs in the shops already. On the Friday evening I had been at Barrington Court again for the annual South Somerset National Trust Pub Quiz which I run each year. A good time was seemed to be had by all and there was not a hint of controversy this time around. My mate Matthew Applegate's team won last year prompting cries of foul and that I had been feeding Matthew the questions in our various visits to the local pubs. This year all that nonsense was banished from people's minds as Matthew's team limped home in last place.

So I was due to be up and early on the Saturday morning for the short trip to Barrington. I wanted to be there early as my friends Zarrina Bull and Diane Collings (who had appeared with me at Leeds Castle and Hever Castle during the summer) were going to come down for their first appearance at Barrington Court, and I wanted to welcome them on their arrival. However, I slept through my alarm and woke late. I got ready and shot over to Barrington stopping for a brief period at Merriott for petrol. WRONG. There were only two people ahead of me in the queue, both ladies, both pensioners. The first was purchasing a small bouquet of flowers - she didn't know the price. The lady behind the counter didn't know the price. Hell, even I didn't know what the fecking price was. Finally someone ventured outside to look at the prices on the flowers. Sorted. No. Now she wanted to know if they had any Daily Mail's left as there were none outside. This was taking forever. Finally they assured her that there were no Daily Mail's left and she herself vacated the counter. One person in front of me. She wasn't buying any fuel either, she was interested in the cheap and cheerful thermal socks the garage were selling, but she could only find one pair in her size. Thus a box had to be produced from out the back and the staff went through it slowly, looking for another pair of fecking socks in her fecking size. You could feel the arms on my watch spinning round like helicopter rotors as time roared on. I finally paid and was on my way. Hopefully Barrington wouldn't be too busy. ARGH! Wrong again. It was a massive heaving mass of National Trust members and their cars. I simply had nowhere to park and finally resorted in just abandoning my car on the grass verge where the avenue of chestnut trees used to be. Not very environmental or proper, but I had to put the car somewhere, I couldn't just eat it. Hopefully my tardy arrival would not be noticed. As I walked in through the front door, one of the stall holders called out "'Ere, Henry! Your two wives are looking for you!" Which kind of let me know that Zarrina and Diane were here already.

Yes, indeed they were and they looked stunning in their new costumes - Zarrina in a home made purple dress which looked stunning, and Diane in a Tudor dress she had purchased from Ebay but had massively altered herself to get it into shape. We had a lovely time wandering the halls and rooms of Barrington and the ladies really seemed to enjoy themselves. They certainly added some fun and laughter to the day. We had a pile of photos taken, some of which I shall place on this blog when I get them. I have never seen the Mistletoe Fayre as busy as it was this year, so long may that flourish. It was a fun, tiring day all round and a delight to work with Zarrina and Diane again. Tomorrow won't be the same without them. We finished about 4pm and I was glad to be home, but I am looking forward to part two tomorrow. And Rachel Brewer's mulled cider was STUNNING!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Back to Parkfield

Good King Hal helping to hold up a troublesome wall at Barrington Court. If you go there and it's fallen down then you know it's his fault. As most other things seem to be these days.

My visits to schools in Somerset in the last few weeks have really been spoiling me. After the delight of returning to Dunster last week, I was back at one of my favourite haunts in Taunton - Parkfield Primary near Musgrove Park Hospital. The head teacher there is the near legendary Wynford Sides, a name of Charles Dickens' style quality. I was to encounter another cracking name before the end of the day, but more of that later. Quite a bit of building work has gone on at Parkfield in the past couple of years and the place looks really good now. They have a fine looking gazebo for the children to sit in which in the early morning light this morning looked fabulous as it was tastefully lit up from inside. I am also insanely jealous as they also have two fine cricket nets set up on the side of their playing field now. Very nice! I was soon in the staff room enjoying a welcoming cup of tea and a chat with the ever affable Mr Sides. Soon I was re-introduced to Year 5 teacher Mrs Nightingale and she told me we had a lively group today of about 66 children. It was a lovely morning - full of laughter and fun. A really delightful group to work with, which is pretty much par for the course with Parkfield School which surely must have something to do with Mr Sides' rules and style of management. He has been at Parkfield since September 1987 and long may he remain there.

As ever at this lovely school one of the staff had gone to Tesco to grab me some lunch, and would not accept any money for my food. I had a very agreeable chicken salad sandwich followed by a crisp sharply sweet Braeburn apple. Also in the staff room today was a pile of homemade cakes, so I had to have a bash on some of the flapjacks, and they were stunning! The finest I had ever tasted.

Back in the hall after lunch I was doing the talk about Tudor crime and punishment, and the little chap I had picked out the audience to be my unfortunate victim of the beggars punishment had the colourful name of Dylan Thrasher - you just can't write stuff like that, can you? The jousting was equally colourful and noisy and finished with the gentlemen finally winning a tournament - the first in a long time. They are still lagging behind, but have closed the gap at last. Our score now is:


The next chance they get to win again is next Wednesday at Bathampton School, near Bath. Tomorrow night I am at Barrington Court hosting their annual Pub Quiz event for the South Somerset National Trust. I have another good quiz lined up for them and hope they enjoy it. This weekend I will also be at Barrington Court as it is the annual Mistletoe Fayre which is always a delight to appear at. Hopefully see some of you there.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How Very Parochial

The Mona Lisa before she had a shave. Notice how the eyes follow you round the room? That's detached retina's, that is...

The school I was visiting on Tuesday, has to have one of my favourite names of any school I go to. This was the delightfully named Amberley Parochial Village School. Anything with the name parochial in it immediately sets me to thinking about Father Ted. But rather than being marooned on the shores of Craggy Island, Amberley is a beautiful Cotswold village, halfway up a big hill in Gloucestershire near Stroud. Strong Laurie Lee country which is always good news for me. However, as the dark morning drive up from Somerset gave way to a pale early light, I might as well have been in Catford for all the scenery I could see. Fog, fog, thick, thick fog. My previous visit to Amberley had been back in 2009 and on that day I had arrived on a piercingly bright autumnal morning. My arrival on Tuesday was in a thick fug of dampness and low visibility. However, the warmth of my welcome was as nice and generous as had ever been. Miss Hyland who booked me at this school was there again and I was soon gulping down generous cups of tea whilst setting up in their charming hall. The group of children, year 3 and 4 combined, were mostly good natured and fun to work with. One little girl burst into tears as soon as I started and continued in this fashion for the rest of the day - usually spending most of her time with her fingers in her ears, but she did laugh a lot as well folks, don't think me some kind of sadistic monster.

On my previous visit to this school I'd had to take a drive out to purchase some lunch, and what with their being no local shop my choice of sandwiches had been reduced to some curling relics on the shelf of a nearby petrol station. Therefore, forewarned against this I had come fully armed this day with a tin of mulligatawny soup (made with real owls) and some crusty bread. Lunch was very warming and spicy and went down a treat.

The afternoon was a little fractured and unsmooth due to a late start back in the hall, and then having to finish very promptly for an end of school assembly. The jousting was fun but ended controversially when a very good lads team had to be disqualified for blatant rule breaking - not a popular decision on my behalf, but rules is rules folks. So with the ladies winning by default the score on our accumulator is now:


They're getting away again and the lads are on a bit of a slippery slope it seems. I began the drive home slightly worried - I was driving down one of the hills when my car seemed to start making an alarming metallic grinding noise, almost akin to an angle grinder. I soon located the noise - a man in a garden very close to the road using an angle grinder. Ah, that would be it then. Silly me. I got home in the evening and watched a rather poor Manchester City get deservedly beaten by Napoli in the Champions League, and thence to bed. Did some voice over work for my friend Greg Stevens at Radio Sherborne this morning, and then out again tonight. Tomorrow is a return to another of my favourite schools with my annual visit to Parkfield Junior in Taunton and the near legendary Mr Wynford Sides. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dunster and Dunsterer...

A lonely ancient mottled thing in the gardens of Barrington Court. And behind him is a sun dial.

Cough. Cough - wheeze - splutter. Gad! Will this horrible chesty cough EVER finally clear off? I have no other symptoms of a cold now - not a thing. But this cough... If I try and laugh at anything I end up hacking away as if I am about to barf up a lung. But all that aside I was in good heart for an early morning start and a drive over to Dunster near Minehead. This was the eighth year in a row I had visited this fine school and as ever I was really looking forward to it. The weather was bright and clear first thing and I made good progress even through that perennial bottle neck called Taunton. As I approached Dunster itself the elegant castle perched on it's rocky outcrop above the town was being picked out, spotlight style, by the first rays of the morning sun - it looked beautiful. As I pulled up at the rear entrance to the school I was greeted by three of the teachers I had seen over the previous years. Coming to Dunster is like coming back to an extended family - everyone is so welcoming. I got set up in the hall, got changed and then awaited the children. It was a small group today, just about 25 of them, all year 4's, but impeccably behaved and some of them showing a very good knowledge of the Tudors. Lunch at Dunster was, as ever, a real treat - home made lasagna with crusty bread and a crisp green salad on the side. I sat with the head teacher, Mr Hoyland, and we got on like a house on fire as we always seem to, even if he is an Arsenal fan.

Back in the hall after lunch I had invited the year 3 group to come and watch the jousting as I would be seeing them the following year. This injection of more children and the appearance of several more teachers managed to push the volume level up through the roof and we ended up with a brilliant tournament. Honours again went to a very fine ladies team who galloped away to a deserved victory. Our score is now:


Normal service is now resumed.

I drove back in a fairly easy untroubled way and then spent the evening with Matthew Applegate at the Duke of York Pub in Shepton Beauchamp being told various ribald old jokes by Geoff the Builder. Splendid! I shall be going to visit my friend Pete Flanagan today to see how he is getting on recovering from his car accident. Perhaps like Stan Laurel I should bring him hard boiled eggs and walnuts.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dr Walker's, Fyfield

Good King Hal, attempting to blend in with the autumnal foliage so that he can leap out on unsuspecting females, whilst clutching a huge ripe courgette, screaming "LOOK OUT MISSUS! THE MARTIANS HAVE LANDED!" It's a hobby, I suppose.

The long week with the never ending coughing fit continued apace with a first visit to the wonderfully named Dr Walker's Junior School in Fyfield, near Ongar in Essex. I think this week was another "first" as all four schools I did this week were new to me - I had never visited any of them before. Quite a rarity these days. My drive over to Ongar from Basildon was not as straightforward as it should be. The usual route would be to cut through Wash Road and Lower Road in Mountnessing - the very road I grew up in! However, halfway down Wash Road they are doing huge great earth moving things, and the road is completely closed. So I thought I would be smart and would cut down through Billericay and go via the back roads round St Giles' Church on the outskirts of Mountnessing (where I got married BTW - I hope you're all making notes about this). All those roads were closed as well. What the hell is going on? Are they extending the Central Line on London Underground? Anyway, I eventually had to drive up to Ingatestone and cut through to Fyfield via Fryerning - all very picturesque and nice, but hardly an expressway. I finally found Dr Walker's School - not a posh private school as the name seemed to suggest, but a very pleasant, relatively modern state school. I was warmly welcomed by the staff, particularly Gemma Smith who had booked me, and was soon in the main hall with the children. It was a small group, only about 25 children, but they were quite a handful - prone to shouting out and getting carried away with the excitement. But they were on the whole very nice children. We had a really fun morning which seemed to shoot past, and the only real headache was my occasional coughing fits with the remnants of my cold. Lunch was a lovely big baked jacket spud drowned in beans and cheese - Nom! Nom! Nom! Had a pleasant chat with one of the senior teachers at the school, a lady who had worked at the same school for the past 30 years. Blimey, she needed either a medal or shooting. There was also a very friendly supply teacher there, a nice chap from Braintree who bore a worrying resemblance to Pa Boswell from the comedy series "Bread".

The afternoon was amazingly loud for such a small group - in fact the group had got even smaller as some of the children had gone off to a cross country tournament. Lucky them... (not). We finished with another amazing jousting tournament, they've all been very memorable this week. This ended with another victory for the ladies. Our score is now:


The boys winning streak hasn't lasted long and the ladies are back in the lead again. More to come this week with my next visit being to Dunster School next Tuesday.

I drove back to Somerset this morning after dropping my beloved son James at school. He cuddled up in bed with me last night which was lovely. I know he is getting older so rapidly now and these wonderful innocent times won't last forever, so I make the most of them while I can now, treasuring every second he still considers me cool. He's about the only person who does. He seems hell bent on trying to be a comedian and makes up jokes sometimes. But these are usually jokes utterly devoid of humour - but being a good Daddy I tend to laugh at them anyway. His current favourite self penned joke is: Why did the Alligator punch the car? Because he felt like it. BA-DOOM-TISH! I thank you. And you lot thought my jokes were lame? Now you know who I have passed the genes on to...

Mike Farley, Good King Hal - a singularity in Somerset, News at Ten.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

If It's Tuesday It Must Be Thorpe St Andrew...

An image giving a rough estimate of the amount of mileage covered by Good King Hal this week, and his current whereabouts.
Having four shows in four days would be enough to test the physical stamina and mental fortitude of someone in the peak of physical fitness, of a young age and without porridge for a brain. Which was a real shame as I entered this week full of cold, self doubt and feeling every day of my 44 years of age. I drove up to Essex on the Sunday and saw my beloved James. As usual I received the now traditional welcome of being thrashed mercilessly at Mario Kart on the Wii Console by him, but it was good fun none the less. I was up at the crack of dawn the following morning for a drive up to Melbourn (no, not the one in Australia as that has an "E" attached on the end), but is a small place near Royston which is either in Hertfordshire or Cambridgeshire, depending on who you speak to. Melbourn Primary School was an absolute delight - friendly, welcoming and with a nice bunch of children. I felt like death warmed up on my first arrival at the school, but by pouring large amounts of Lemsip down my throat I managed to assume a vague appearance of humanity. A splendid day was had all round with lots of laughs and ended up with a great jousting tournament that culiminated with another victory for the gentlemen. This made our scores for the year:
So the Gents finally pull level for about the first time in over two years. Heart stopping excitement, eh? Eh? Oh wake up for goodness sake. The Monday evening I drove over to Hitcham in Suffolk to see Sue English and Ian Weston, my old friends who run the brilliant Portals to the Past group of re-enactors. I was warmly welcomed by Sue and later on Ian arrived and we ended up heading down to Hadleigh in Suffolk where they treated me to a delicious Indian meal. It was great fun catching up with my old friends and sharing stories about our re-enactment experiences.
The following morning Ian and I were both heading up to Norwich to do shows - Ian in central Norwich and me to Thorpe St Andrew in the north eastern suburbs and St William's School. This was another new school for me and this one was another wonderful find. If possible they were even more friendly than the previous day at Royston and the children here were brilliant. So funny! The absolute highlight of a lovely day was when during the question and answer session at the end of the morning some of the children asked me questions about different sports in Tudor times. One little girl asked was it true they used a pigs bladder when they played football, and I assured her it was true. They'd remove the bladder, empty it, steam it, turn it inside out and then stitch it up and inflate it, before kicking it around. Sounds delightful. A moment later another little girl asked about the pigs bladder, only this time she asked "did it hurt?" - I told her it didn't do the pig any good, which reduced the teachers to tears. The little girl had meant did it hurt kicking the bladder, but it was too good a feed line to miss. Another child asked if the Tudor's ever used children for jousting, but I assured him they only used horses. Our joust was another classic and wound up for another victory for the Gents. Unbelievable stuff. So after so many years of trailing in the ladies wake, by half way through this week the Lads find themselves in the uncharted waters of leading! The score after Tuesday was:
I drove back down the delightful rain and lunatic addled A12 and back to see my lovely son James again. But there is no let up this week for the wicked old King. After another brief night of sleep I was again up with the lark (and still down with the lurghi) and driving this morning towards the Eastern coastal paradise that is known as Harwich. As I drove up the A120 in the early morning grey light I pondered as to when I last visited this town. I reckoned my last visit had been in 1975, when at the age of 8 I had travelled with my family at the start of a holiday in France by going to Harwich to catch a ferry, and staying in the deliciously named "VIKING MOTOR LODGE" or something. It was every bit as grotty as the name suggests, but I was just so excited to be on holiday and staying somewhere that had the name VIKING in the title. I had a little trouble in finding the school this morning - the Mayflower Junior. My sat nav took me to a school, but the wrong one. I eventually found what I was looking for and managed to park my car right by the back doors to the large hall. Another welcoming cup of steaming Lemsip helped my human being impersonation again. Once more I was welcomed by lovely staff and some great kids - all in brilliant costumes, something that every wonderful school this week has managed. We had a really fun day and despite my cough nearly knackering me this afternoon I managed to make it through without too much hassle. We had a fine jousting tournament which went right to the wire but was won by a brilliant ladies team. And so we find ourselves level again:
And all that and one more school to do tomorrow this week. I am off to Fyfield tomorrow near Ongar for a first visit to the delightfully named Dr Walker's Church of England School. Should be more fun.
As some of you may or may not know I had recently started dating someone. This was the first time I had managed something like this since about the mid 17th Century and I was jolly pleased with myself, particularly as the other person was particularly attractive - the words "punching" "above" and "weight" came readily to mind. However, I am back to my usual status again as this situation has now come to a close. So women of Britain, be aware - I AM SINGLE AGAIN! Yes! Lock your doors, hide under stairs, hammer large bits of wood crookedly across windows and doors... Unless of course you are interested in dating a man who looks about 400 years old, is ginger, so large he appears on Ordnance Survey maps as a shipping hazard and wears tights for a living. Gosh, you can see why I am constantly fighting the women off, can't you? As I only ever seem to find a woman who is brave enough to date me once every five years, I am thoroughly looking forward to a brief two week period in 2016 when I shall be able to take a lady out to dinner three times. And when you look like me, that's about as good as it gets! GOODNIGHT EVERYBODY!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Return to Knightwood

"And that" said Good King Hal with a certain glint in his eye, "is when you know you have the woodworm completely surrounded. Now release the hounds!"

Ah, dear old Knightwood Junior in Chandlers Ford. Chandlers Ford? Why would candle makers want to have a ford? Answers on a post card please to: Candle Makers And Their Ford (Not a car), Good King Hal, c/o Hampton Court Palace, Hampton Court Palace Road, Near the maze, London. Anyway, whilst pondering that, dear reader, also ponder on this - today's visit was my 7th appearance at this lovely school. SEVEN? I can't believe it. The drive down was, in comparison with the forced march to Ventnor on Sunday evening was a doddle. I arrived at about 7.45am and was soon inside and re-introduced to the caretaker of the school, the highly esteemed Lee. This gentleman is a real gem (I have to say all this as I know he reads this blog - hello Lee!). As ever he warmly welcomed me and soon had a welcoming cup of tea in my hands. What a star.

It was a lovely group again today - about 60 kids, the vast majority of them in fabulous Tudor costumes, and though they had only recently started their topic there were some real gems of Tudor knowledge out there already. True, there were also subtle moments of gob-smacking daftness as well. For instance when I was explaining about Henry and other rich Tudor's eating habits, I mentioned about some of their nasty habits of over-eating and"purging" themselves by forcing a long feather down their throats. I began this innocently enough by just showing the children a long feather and asking them what they think Henry did with this long feather half way through a meal. There were the usual answers such as "write a letter" and "tickle his tummy", but I told them he tickled something else with it. One little girl then shouted out in a triumphant voice that she knew the answer - Henry very obviously stops a heavy meal to nip outside and tickle a horse with a feather. It was so blatantly obvious I was amazed I had never thought of it before. The genius of children.

The afternoon session was a pleasure and ended with an inevitably loud jousting tournament that ended with another victory for the gentlemen. This makes our latest score:


The drive home was frequently threatened with lumpen grey skies that promised vast amounts of rain. But there was the occasional downpour, but nothing long term. Eventually the weather cleared and my journey was rewarded with a quite stunning sunset as I drove along the A303. A lovely end to a good day.

I am up to Essex on Sunday to see my lovely son, James, then I have shows at Royston, Norwich, Harwich and Fyfield on the Monday through to the Thursday. I shall be rich and exhausted.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Long March

Good King Hal attempting to finish his cocktail whilst pretending to play a stunning Tudor tune on his dordrecht. Dirty boy.

There have been a few miles added to my car in recent weeks. I had been to Leeds Castle a couple of weeks back for an evening corporate do - I wasn't actually on until about 10pm, and then only briefly, but the group seemed to enjoy it, even the Italians who were there and didn't speak much English. Shortly after this it was half term and I was off with my lovely son James for a visit to his grandparent's house in Wales for a few days. We had a great time and James even managed to produce a fabulous oil painting with my father of his cat Dru. It turned out to be a true masterpiece and now has pride of place in his Mum's front room. It was also nice to find James getting on so well with his reading, something he was really struggling with till recently. Whereas before when he would do anything to avoid reading in front of us he now almost has to be reigned back in, such is his desire to show off his new skills. Bless him.

After a brief day in Somerset to try and catch up on life, I was off down to the Isle of Wight again for a return visit to St Francis' School in Ventnor, only this time, my life was going to be a lot easier as the teacher from my previous visit Hannah Larkin, had offered me a room for the night before. Therefore there would be no getting up in the wee small hours for me - oh no! No, I would have a nice gentle drive down on Sunday afternoon, enjoy a relaxed crossing of the Solent and then pootle across the island to Ventnor, enjoy a large glass of wine or some such, exchange a few bon mottes with my hosts and then sleep a long restful sleep, safe in the knowledge there would be no early morning rushing about. Well, that was the plan. I left Crewkerne at about 4.30pm, booked as I was for the 6.30pm crossing from Lymington to Yarmouth. The weather was a bit grim - a mixture of rain and fog in places, but I made steady if unspectacular progress. That was until I got on the area of road between Wimborne and Bournemouth where the traffic ground to a halt. Various emergency service vehicles roared past us as we sat there - a huge smash shortly further up the road had closed the carriageway in both directions. Time plodded on and after an hour it was pretty clear I had missed the 6.30pm crossing. It was just after this that the Police came along announcing that the road would remained shut for some time and we had to turn round and find an alternative route. I cut across country for a while, but loads of other people had the same idea and masses of cars suddenly descending on narrow country lanes in fog and rain was a recipe for problems, and so it proved. After less than five miles there had been two other minor shunts as cars bumped into each other. I tried various turnings down anonymous pitch dark country lanes and succeeded in merely finding myself back on the blocked main road I had started on. I headed back to the last major junction I had gone across before heading onto the cursed road only to find this gridlocked with cars descending on it from all directions. I'd just about had enough by now, so I gave up and headed back home. By the time I got back home I had found I had driven just over 100 miles and got precisely nowhere. I phoned Hannah on the Isle of Wight and she encouraged me to try again by a different route later as the ferries ran until quite late into the night, so after a quick bite to eat I set out again, this time along the A303 to the A36 and then head down towards the ferry via Salisbury. All was going well and I arrived finally at the ferry terminal at about 22.32 to discover that the previous boat had sailed at 22.30 and the next one was not due until 23.59. Bugger. Buggerbuggerbugger. I phoned Hannah again and she sounded exhausted and near sleep, so she couldn't guarantee there would be anyone up to meet me when I arrived. I finally crossed the inky black Solent and was on the island, but this then necessitated a 45 minute drive from Yarmouth to Ventnor. Hannah sent me another message saying if there was no reply when I arrived she would leave the front door open and lights to lead me through the house to my room. That made sense. I found the house and called the mobile number, but inevitably there was no reply. So I wandered up the driveway in rain spotted darkness to be confronted by a front door left wedged open and a series of lights up a range of stairs. I walked slowly up the stairs praying that this was the right house and I wasn't about to be confronted on the steps by some irate home owner with a shotgun and a real bad attitude towards Tudor impersonators turning up in the middle of the night. I found my room, clambered into bed and fell into a deep and very welcoming sleep. It had taken me until quarter past one in the morning to get to Ventnor from a 4.15pm start. Now that was a Long March. Eat your heart out, Chairman Mao.

After that sort of start the actual day at the school could only be a bit of an anticlimax. They were an odd little group of kids today - relatively quiet and not seeming really on the ball. But they laughed in some of the right places and even fed me one of my best comic lines in ages. I was doing the question and answer session just before lunch when one little lad pointed to my new big shiny blingy ring on my right hand and asked me why I was wearing a girls ring on my right hand. I told him it was my feminine side. This garnered me a round of applause from the teachers. Thank you! The cheque is in the post. The afternoon whizzed past and culminated in a stunning win for the ladies in a fine jousting tournament. This makes our score for the year now:


The drive home threatened to be as bad as the drive down to the island with stark warnings on the radio about appalling traffic on the A31 AND the A303, but luckily by the time I got to the A303 it was clear and I shot through to Crewkerne and found myself at home before 7pm. Heaven. I made a few phone calls, ate some dinner, watched a bit of TV and comforted myself that being three floors up in my flat and with a broken front door bell I wouldn't be disturbed by bloody trick or treaters. And very soon I intend to go to bed and sleep until my name becomes Rip Van Good King Hal. Next show is on Thursday with a return visit to the lovely Knightwood School in Chandlers Ford.

Oh, and I nearly forgot - Manchester United 1 Manchester City 6. Bliss!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Royal Wedding!

The entire West End cast gurning outside Northcote House at Sunningdale Park! The handsome devil standing behind the King is the Groom, Mr Roland "Man of a Thousand Audio Descriptions" Bearne.

Just a quickie my friends. On the 9th October 2011 my very good friend Roland Bearne married the delightful Sallie Stone at Northcote House in Sunningdale Park and they very kindly invited me to come along and be announcer/master of ceremonies for the day as Henry. It was a fantastic wedding and a good day all round. The evening reception was wonderful as well as a whole load of the Knights of Royal England jousting team turned up and made a proper party of it. It was one of the finest weddings I have ever been to and Roland and Sallie made a wonderful couple - thank you both for a very memorable day!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

St Cecillia's Junior, North Cheam

Mary, Queen of Scots, busking outside Hampton Court just before being moved along by the Police and her subsequent triumphant residency at Fotheringay Castle.

If it's October then it must be a visit to St Cecillia's RC Junior School in North Cheam, near Sutton in Surrey. This was my EIGHTH appearance at the school, if you can believe it. Eight long years since I first arrived there. Of course coming all the way from Somerset does warrant a bit of an early start, to say the least. When the alarm clock went off at 4am it was a bit of a shock to the system. However, having said that, there is no finer time of the day to be driving up the A303 - the place is decidedly quiet and empty and all the better for it. I made very good time and was soon on the M3. This is really the only part of the journey where one might hit trouble and sure enough it was very busy, even at 6am in the morning. It made a change to turn onto the M25 and find it was a quieter road. It would be like moving to Kabul and finding there were less explosions there. Mind you, if you lived in Basildon during the November 5th period, then it might just work.

St Cecillia's is a fine school and it was a delight to be back - I was warmly welcomed as ever by their friendly care taker. I have absolutely no idea who this gentleman is, but he is always a delight to talk to and is welcoming and friendly. He let me drive my car in and unload the props, and then it was time for a very welcoming cup of tea. I was then introduced to the two teachers looking after Year 4 at St Cecillia's this year - two new ladies who had never seen my show before. They were dressed in their Tudor finery as were all the children. It was a group of about 60 pupils, all full of beans and dying to know more about Henry VIII. During the morning session I was telling the children about the horrors of the plague hitting Tudor England and about some of the insane "cures" people tried to come up with, one of which was they thought the plague was being spread by cats and dogs. So they slaughtered all the cats and dogs, and of course the rats (whose fleas were really spreading the plague and were having their numbers kept down by the cats and dogs) quadrupled in their population size and the plague got ten times worse. Well, I had just mentioned this information when a little lad put his hand up with a question - I asked him what it was. He said "what about the tigers?" I was a bit confused. Tigers? Yes, he meant tigers. What about them? Well, he said, they're a type of cat, so what happened to them? This really tickled me. I suddenly had all these ideas of the Tudors keeping Tigers as pets. i.e. taking them for walks and being horribly mutilated/trying to put the cat out for the night and more mutilations. Great stuff.

I munched some lunch in the staff room then it was back for more amazing Tudor revelations. I was doing my musical talky bit and playing my instruments and I was asked by one child if all the Tudors were musical, I mused that they probably were to a lesser or greater degree. Another child put his hand up. Yes? Did any of them play the spoons he asked. I told him Mary, Queen of Scots was a sod for whipping the spoons out at most social gatherings. I did various impressions of her singing such great Tudor melodies as "Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty" and "Let's All Go Down the Strand, Have a Banana". The jousting was good, but ruined in the final by the gents team cheating unashamedly and thus being disqualified. This let a very good ladies side in for an easy win. Our score is now:


I am next on parade at this weekend for my mate Roland Bearne's wedding in Surrey. Should be lots of fun.

Today has been nice and relaxing, I did some shopping over at Tesco's at Ilminster and was alarmed to discover that Uncle Peter from the "Smell of Reeves and Mortimer" had decided to have a sex change operation and then work on one of the tills there. DONKEY! It's amazing who you meet.

Monday, October 03, 2011

St Paul's School, Shepton Mallet

Good King Hal blowing a raspberry on the back of Anne Boleyn's hand.

The weather is very slowly coming back round to being the correct temperature for this time of year. But it was still uncomfortably hot today for my latest visit to St Paul's Junior School in Shepton Mallet. Thank the Lord for air conditioning in cars, that's all I can say. The drive up the A37 can be a bit of a bind sometimes, but today wasn't too bad at all. I arrived at the school almost smack on 8am and parked round the rear near their outdoor swimming pool. I signed in and soon had everything loaded into the main hall. The staff are so generous and kind at this school and they soon had me supplied with cups of tea, jugs of water and somewhere to get changed for the show. I was put on hold for a while as a school assembly took place, but was soon out and on show as the day began. They were a very lively bunch - about 60 of them all from year 4, and full of giggles - almost too many at times. It was a fine and loud morning - I got changed into my civvies for the lunch, which turned out to be a very tasty quiche, but I sat in with the children in the dining hall for this. Not a good move. Frequent cries of "HENRY!" or the more puzzling one of "You know you're not the real Henry VIII!" - as though I wasn't aware, constantly ringing in my ears.

The afternoon was equally deafening and ended with a good jousting tournament. This got off to a slightly truncated start when during the first gents race both teams managed to get themselves disqualified - a first for me! I re-started the race and we got on our way. It was closely fought throughout but ended with another win for the Gentlemen. So our scores are now all square again.


A nice drive back through the warm early evening sunshine. I cooked a pasta bolognese containing Quorn mince for my dinner. I am sorry, I have really tried to like it, but Quorn just tastes disgusting. Not for me any more.

Tomorrow it is a very early start for a drive up to St Cecillia's School in North Cheam in Surrey - my EIGHTH visit to this fine school.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Chut Fest 2011, Barrington Court

A Cinemascope version of a Tudor King.

The annual chutney festival at Barrington Court, lovingly known as Chut Fest, is always good fun. True it causes traffic jams (Jams? Geddit?), can get you in a pickle, (Pickle? Geddit?) but I always look forward to it with considerable relish. (Relish??? Yes, I know...). I was a little disappointed that I missed the first day on Saturday, but then I was having a splendid time at the new Museum of Somerset in Taunton, so I had a good excuse. I wasn't being saucy. (Saucy? Alright, I'll stop now). As like the previous few days at Cheltenham and Taunton, it was unseasonably hot and very humid, but luckily as the afternoon wore on a slight breeze blew up from somewhere, which was a real relief.

Loads of familiar faces at Barrington Court today, and lovely to see them all as usual. It wasn't as frantically busy as it has been at previous years, but then I think the very hot weather didn't do us any favours. People take one look at the hot weather and then leap in cars heading for the direction of the coast. I personally think they want locking up, but each to their own I suppose. Quite a few of the visitors I spoke to today had been at Taunton yesterday and one even asked if I was the same person. The same person to who? But then conversations like that get very confusing, almost as confusing as the final episode of Doctor Who last night, but lets not go there as I might start going insane.

It was good to see the "Blackdown Babes" (as they call themselves) with their fine collections of food and other exotic yummy stuff, and it was a real pleasure as ever to see the lovely Rachel Brewer, Barrington's very own "Pommelier" (that's a cider making expert to you and me!). Her little stall was bedecked with all the latest awards her fine drinks have earned her. I started at 11am today, but by 2.30pm my previous few days wandering round in a fur coat during a heat wave caught up with me, and I'd had enough. So I said my farewells and headed back to my own personal Hampton Court.

Monday see's me at St Paul's Junior in Shepton Mallet again, and Tuesday will be an early start and an 8th annual visit to St Cecillia's School in North Cheam in Surrey. Lovely. Right, I am going to really concentrate now as I am going to watch the last episode of Doctor Who again now. If you hear someone gibbering later on, it will be me trying to work it out.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

St Edward's Junior, Cheltenham & Museum of Somerset

Good King Hal indicating where a large UFO carrying Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, Lord Lucan, Father Christmas and Cardinal Richeleu has just flown past very slowly behind the cameraman. Again.

Back up at the crack of dawn again. Yes, it's time for Good King Hal to hit the road and head up to Gloucestershire. I hadn't visited St Edward's Junior in Cheltenham before, but my crappy sat nav had by some miracle managed to find the address for the school, so it seemed to be a relatively easy hour and half drive up the M5 to find it. What I wasn't expecting was that the school was located somewhere up a very posh private lane that half way up it was a road block. Yup, a big barrier in the road for no adequately explained reason. Perhaps it was one of those ones that if you drove up to it slowly it would just raise for you. Wrong. I tried re-programming the sat nav, but it wouldn't have it - as far as she was concerned this was the way to get to the school and tough bitties if you wanted to go another way. I sat in the quiet leafy posh road scratching my head and wondering how the hell I was going to get past this. I drove back down to the main road, but my sat nav was screaming about doing a u-turn. So I turned round and went back up the posh road, and it was as I was slowly driving up this paean to capitalism that I noticed a very small worn road sign. It suggested if you wanted to get past the road barrier it was best to go in through an alternatively named road (the name escapes me at present). As my sat nav has not the best grasp on finding obscure rural roads I did wonder if it would work, but it did! I followed the directions and lo! There was the school! St Edward's Junior is a lovely school and I was very warmly welcomed by Lin Davis, the lady who booked me, and not the similarly named Olympic Long Jump champion from 1964 who also just happens to be my cousin. As is Lily Cole. But I am getting distracted. We had the main school sports hall for the entire day and it was great - a nice big hall, great acoustics and a good lively group of about 40 children. We had a fine morning, lots of laughs and good fun. Lunch was spent in the school hall being cross questioned by various children as to whether I really was the REAL Henry VIII. The afternoon was a short session, as they usually are at private schools and culminated in a very loud and enthusiastic jousting tournament. This was won by a mile by a very good ladies team. Our score for the year is now:


More intrigue. My next Henry day is on Monday with a return visit to St Paul's Junior in Shepton Mallet. Watch out for the score at the end of that.

On the Saturday I was invited back to the Museum of Somerset for their grand re-opening. As I stated in the last blog entry this re-launch of the Museum has taken about three years and millions of pounds, but it looks brilliant. Loads of interactive stuff for the kids, large airy rooms full of interesting nuggets to search out and packed with great local finds, from pre-history to the second world war. I was there as Henry, generally meeting and greeting, and then doing three half hour talks, one at 11am, one at 1pm and one at 2pm. Well over a thousand people came in during the day on this unseasonably hot 1st October. I absolutely sweltered, but it was great fun and nice to see the old place so packed full of excited new visitors. The Museum of Somerset is a big hit and well worth a visit - so get yourself to Taunton! Tomorrow I am back at Barrington Court for the Sunday of the Chut Fest 2011. See you there.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

BBC Somerset, Yetminster, Somerset Museum and TIGHTS!

Good King Hal attempting to hide his four and a half ton body behind a painfully thin quintaine pole. It didn't work.

YETMINSTER! Home to Yeti's. It is! Honest. Well, the Yetties actually, who if you're not entirely sure who they are, they're actually a sort of Happy Shopper version of The Wurzels, which is no great recommendation if you're a music lover. Well I was back at St Andrew's Junior School in this delightful little town/big village just over the border from Somerset into Dorset. I was last here back in September 2008 (see this blog for my rave review of the place!) and it was good to be back and welcomed by such lovely kind and friendly teachers. It was a biggish group - years 3, 4 and 5 combined for a total of about 90 kids, and they were fantastic! All but one of them had dressed up in brilliant Tudor costumes, some of which you could tell had been lovingly made by a member of their family. Great stuff. We had a fine morning, but stiflingly hot! This is supposed to be September for heaven's sake! I suppose it is God's way of letting us know that the cricket season is over. I was very grateful for a fan being supplied for me for the day which I constantly had running trying to stop me spontaneously combusting. I had a school dinner, and whilst waiting for this one of the dinner ladies came up and said "'Ere, is that padding or all you?" pointing at my stomach. Without waiting for an answer she poked me. I pretended to grab for her ample bosom saying "My turn!" I was talking to some of the other dinner ladies about my recent gall bladder health problems and my low fat diet, when they brought my dinner out - a burger, salad... and chips. Oh well. The original dinner lady who wanted to poke my midriff snorted at the sight of my dinner. "I spose you're gonna tell us them chips is low fat, eh?" Now I don't mind ultra skinny people making derogatory remarks about my ample size, but this woman could easily have worked as a body-double for the R101, so she was on no moral high ground I can tell you. "Probably not" I said, looked her up and down and said "So what's your excuse?"

The afternoon was great fun - but even hotter, and we then had the wee ones from year 2 come and join us for the final joust. It was another rollicking affair with some very closely fought contests, but finished with a win for... the Gentlemen again! This year it seems they're inseparable. Current score is:


Next Henry show in a school is on Friday at St Edward's Junior in Cheltenham. Watch this blog for the latest score and results.

Today I was in Taunton bright and early for an appearance on the BBC Somerset Emma Britton Show, except that Emma is currently off on holiday, so it was actually the Vernon Harfield Show. Vernon is a very professional presenter, but like a lot of BBC presenters seems to think that he is actually the natural heir apparent to Jeremy Paxman. Anyone he interviews he plays the Devil's Advocate and keeps asking them probing annoying questions. We were doing an interview about new electricity pylons being build across Somerset and what people felt about them, and a couple of times Vernon kept asking protesters questions like "how much extra would you be prepared to pay for no pylons and all the electrical work done in tunnels?" to which the protester would begin to answer and Vernon would leap back with "You're dodging the question - HOW MUCH??" as though he was trying to skewer a slippery Michael Howard. Chill, Vernon! After the show I walked round to Taunton Castle and the new Museum of Somerset which is reopening this week after a multi-million pound three year re-fit. I met Steve Minnitt, County Head of Museums outside, it was good to see him. And Carrie Blogg, the project manager for the whole thing was there too - hadn't seen them in ages. Inside - wow. The Museum is STUNNING. The money has been well spent and it is breath taking. I shall give a proper report of it on Saturday when I am appearing there for a couple of shows. Great stuff. It was nice to see the original scroll that I signed at the launch of the project there on display with all it's signatures. It was partially unrolled at the top so that all you could really see was the signatures of Mick Aston, Tony Robinson and Helen Geake from Time Team - and ME! Fame at last. In the afternoon I nipped over to Yeovil for some new tights - a King's outfit is not complete without fresh tights!

Even now this evening it is still sweltering here. After Cheltenham, I am at the Museum of Somerset on Saturday, and then at Barrington Court for the Chut Fest 2011 on Sunday. Hope to see lots of people there, especially if this weather continues.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

South Green Billericay and a perfect time to PARTY.

Good King Hal, just checking his roof for nesting Catholics. As you can see, he was on his way to the stock exchange. The writer of this blog would like to apologise for the previous joke, it was nicked with much love from a very reasonably priced Christmas cracker.

Good heavens! Back in Essex again. There should be a law against this sort of thing. It was lovely to see my son again and he took great delight and no little time in once again thrashing me at Mario Kart on the Wii. I also let him scoff large amounts of my Chinese take away on the Thursday evening. What a nice Daddy I am. On the Friday morning I was off over to South Green Junior in Billericay for my fifth visit to this lovely school in as many years. Once more I was very warmly welcomed, only this time with words of warning by the fine teachers there - the group I was to see were apparently challenging, which is I think the P.C. and polite way of saying they were quite a handful. So I was a little nervous about what to expect - but I really needn't have worried, they were a lovely group all in all! We had great fun in the morning session and even though the children had only relatively recently begun studying the Tudors properly, they showed tremendous early knowledge. Lunch was that lovely good old fashioned Friday staple of primary schools - fish fingers and chips! Back in the hall we had a fairly riotous afternoon session culminating in the inevitable roof-lifting jousting tournament. The final outcome was another victory for the ladies - their first for three schools. Our on-going score now reads:


I am next on show as every one's favourite Tudor despot with an appearance at Yetminster in Dorset. Look out for a blog coming your way soon.

Saturday morning I took James into town for breakfast, and he insisted on going to McDonald's. He was only out of the will during the meal, don't worry. Saturday evening I was down at my sister's and brother-in-law's house for my sister's birthday party. Her 46th birthday - yeah, that's right - 46th. Poor old dear. I should have bought her a zimmer frame and some dentures. The party was lovely, just a smallish gathering of close friends and with lots to drink and eat. Among those attending were Michelle Coda and her other half Matt (late of Hever Castle jousting tournaments!), and her cute daughter Victoria; John and Viv Rich who had only just got back from their holiday in Somerset where I had seen them last week; and Ann and Dave Turner-Maynard from Chelmsford who are always great fun to be around - so a splendid time was guaranteed for all. I drank an industrial amount of good red wine and felt tremendoushly schplendid for it (hic). A truly memorable and fun party.

I drove back to Somerset this late morning feeling slightly fragile, but as the day has progressed so I have got better and better. In fact I feel just about strong enough now to go to bed.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cheshire, Oldbury and beyond

Good King Hal, walking through the streets of Bridport with a large tree growing out of his head.

It is always nice in this business to visit new areas that you don't really know. So what did I know about Cheshire? Grinning cats? Check. Some sort of cheese? Check. Home for a lot of overpaid morons living in posh houses chasing inflated pigs bladders round a field? Check. Well, there you have it! All you need to know about Cheshire. I am of course, joking. I really honestly didn't know what to expect. I was heading for Nantwich near Crewe, which to a soft southerner like myself conjured up images of shunting yards and industrial landscapes. How wrong I was! True the weather when I drove up on the Monday was filthy - pouring with rain and miserable as sin. But the countryside did seem very pleasant with some lovely houses. I was booked into another luxurious Travelodge (ah, the excitement of showbiz folks) and for once it was quite nice! It seemed to be a brand spanking new build and seemed slightly better fitted out than some of the ones I have visited recently. Some of the usual things were there as ever - the confusing shower/bath combination thing that would need someone like Professor Stephen Hawking to work out how to make it work, the hot water that either comes out cold for several hours, or is immediately the same heat as volcanic magma and strips the flesh from your hands. But for once it was not just a lonely building in the corner of an industrial estate or a cow field - there were facilities! True, one was one of these God-awful plastic "family pubs" called things like "The Jolly Farmer" or "The Badgers Nadgers", and another was a Subway outlet selling sandwiches so full of salt they could exterminate an infants school with one mouthful. But there was also a nice looking Chinese take away and a Co-op Supermarket. Being the health conscious King I am these days, I put on my blinkers, walked straight past the Chinese and headed for the low fat food in the Co-op. What a good boy I am. I spent a restful evening watching "X-Men: The Last Stand" and having very naughty thoughts about Famke Janssen. (Dirty boy!).

The drive to St Oswald's Worlstone Primary was quite painless the next morning, though the rain was continuing to fall mainly in the downwards direction. It is a lovely old Victorian school building in a very leafy country lane seemingly miles from anywhere. The teachers who greeted me were lovely and friendly and it seemed pretty certain I was on for a good day. And I was right! It was a group of about 35 children and a mixture of years 3, 4, 5 & 6, and though they began the day a little subdued, they soon got into their stride! We had a fine morning,with lots of laughs and were even delighted to notice that the sun was coming out! Hoorah! Lunch was a delicious spaggy bol, and then it was back to the hall for more Tudor mayhem. The concluding joust was close, but won in the end by a very fine Gents team - and about time too! Our score for the year at this point was then:


I packed my stuff away and headed for an hour long drive down to the Frankley Services on the M5 and yet another rendezvous with a Travelodge. This was much more like your usual text book Travelodge. A bit run down, a surly receptionist who kept tutting if people asked her questions and once you got into the corridor towards your room, an over-powering smell of fetid dampness. Frankly, Frankley Services were enough to make you want to chew your own foot off. We did have facilities! You could dine in the sumptuous surrounds of Burger King, or play very loud flashing fruit machines. I instead headed for the near deserted Marks and Spencers food outlet and purchased some more of my low fat grub. There was no Famke Janssen to keep me company this evening, so I ended up retiring to bed at 9.30pm (yes, it's that wild showbiz, rock'n'roll lifestyle again folks!). I am currently reading "1,000 Years of Annoying the French" by Stephen Clarke, which is a mildly diverting book about our "entente cordiale", or rather lack of it, with our Gallic chums over the channel. It is a hefty tome of some 700 pages, and I tend to lie on my back in bed when reading, but this does then bring you the danger of when you're nodding off of dropping your reading matter on your face. Not so bad if it's a newspaper, but a 700 page anti-French comedy book can do some serious damage. After bashing myself on the nose for the 4th time I decided it was time for sleep.

My second show on the road was at Perryfields Primary in Oldbury in Birmingham. To get to this place I had to drive down the M5 for about five miles to the next junction and then turn round and come back again up past the Frankley Service area where I had stayed the night before. It was such a delight to be on the motorway with all those friendly midlands motorists. I'd particularly like to say a big "hello" to the utter Merchant Banker in his glistening silver BMW who seemed to think he had a God given right to drive wherever he fecking wanted on the road and tough luck if you're in his way. I can only wish him my fondest regards, and hopefully terminal dysentery. The school was lovely - I was greeted by Miss Bridgewater who had booked me for the morning and was soon in with the 60+ children from years 3 & 4 combined. We had a great morning - really terrific fun. But the whole thing seemed to pass in a flash and before I knew it, it was over and I was on my way home! The jousting was a close run thing and had to go to TWO ride offs to find the eventual winners which was the Gentlemen AGAIN! So we are now at:


All square as I now head to Essex for a show at South Green Junior in Billericay this Friday.

Wednesday evening I met up with my friends Viv and John Rich from Crawley who are staying in Somerset for a little holiday at the moment. We went to the Mason's Arms at Odcombe near Yeovil and had a lovely meal, which John insisted on paying for. What a nice man! I hope they enjoy the rest of their stay.

On a final note I would like to send my best wishes for a speedy recovery to my old mate Pete Flanagan who is currently in hospital after a very nasty accident when he had his leg crushed by a car that hit him while he was out walking his dog. Hope you are soon back and firing on all four again soon, Pete.